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County OKs pay cut, saving $9.1 million

Clark County commissioners signed off on a 2 percent pay cut Tuesday that will affect almost 7,000 employees and save about $9.1 million in a year.

The savings are enough to preserve 80 jobs as the county struggles to balance its budget in the recession with as few layoffs as possible, county leaders said.

An estimated $7.8 million will come from union workers and $1.3 million from nonunion employees, whose compensation is tied to what their union counterparts get.

Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1107 voted in favor of the reduced pay and smaller concessions last week. About 87 percent who participated voted "yes."

County Manager Don Burnette said the wage reduction doesn’t solve all the county’s financial problems but helps.

"It does provide immediate relief to a strained budget," Burnette said.

Waning tax revenue and impending actions by the Legislature could leave the county about $156 million short in the next budget year.

The county has laid off 364 workers and has frozen or eliminated about 1,500 jobs since the economic slump began a few years ago. In February, Burnette called on the heads of three dozen departments to draft plans for 9 percent budget cuts that would save $41 million and cost up to 400 jobs.

SEIU’s concessions will reduce the cuts to about 7 percent and save almost a fourth of those jobs, Burnette said.

"This decision did not come easy," said Al Martinez, local SEIU president. "Our members have given concessions before, but our county and this commission have offered a solution of shared sacrifice."

Martinez was referring to commissioners and managers themselves taking 2 percent salary reductions, a move that prompted the union to follow suit.

The county and union soon will begin bargaining to renew the contract that’s set to expire in July. The latest concessions will remain in effect if the two sides are still bargaining after the contract expires.

Longevity pay will be on the table in the next round of labor talks. However, in return for the concessions, overtime pay will not be negotiated.

Aside from the 2 percent pay cuts, new-hires will pay 10 percent of their health care premiums. Workers now pay an average of 8.3 percent of premiums, according to county data.

Union officials made one substantial gain: The total number of hours they can use for union activities while on the clock was bumped to 2,080 from 1,375.

Also, most employees will continue getting merit raises up to 4 percent. About 70 percent qualify for those bumps. And those with at least eight years of service will keep receiving longevity pay until they retire.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak voted against the proposal, arguing that the raises and longevity perk don’t make it a true pay cut.

"I think it’s important … to freeze everything," Sisolak said. "This is not a cut. It’s an increase. And I can’t support it for that reason."

Commissioner Tom Collins, who often butts heads with Sisolak on labor issues, had mixed sentiments about the pay cuts, arguing that reducing holidays and vacation, especially for newer workers, was a longer-term solution.

He has suggested trimming employees’ time off before, but his recommendations have gone nowhere.

Collins called the current method of longevity unfair because it’s based on a percentage of a person’s wage rather than a flat sum for each year of service. That leads to the highest-paid employees receiving a lot more than lower-ranking ones, he said.

"Give up the quick fixes," Collins said before voting "yes" on the 2 percent cut.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@review journal.com or 702-455-4519.

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